Supervision of Sandplay Therapy

Supervision of Sandplay Therapy

Edited by Harriet S Friedman & Rie Rogers Mitchell

Supervision in the Arts Therapies

Series Editor Joy Schaverien

Published by Routledge, New York 2008

Reviewed by Ursula Somerville

This is the first book written on this subject and I found the book very accessible.  It is made up of six parts each of which is divided into between two and four chapters.  The chapters are sequential although the book is set in parts. Because of this the reader can go directly to the chapter most suitable to their work.  But, be advised, there is much learning in all of the chapters.  While it is steeped in supportive theories it also emphasises the importance of personal interpretation of supervisee/client.  Of course, it strongly recommends reverie as a vital skill necessary. 

Of note, there are some twenty contributors and of these there is only one male contributor.

The authors of the different chapters are well known and skilled practitioners in sand play.

I found this a very good reference book to have.  It is new, fresh and innovative. 

Part 1 – Creating original supervision models

Chapter 1 – Group sandplay supervision: synergy at play by Lauren Cunningham & Kay Bradway

This chapter introduces the reader to the breakdown of the history of sandplay encompassing the formation of group and the need to keep group selective and small.  The thinking behind a small group of four is based on family dynamics and also confidentiality to protect the client.  They recommend some rules for presenting to a larger group such as that the case cannot be a “live” case (i.e. the case has to have been closed for several years).

Chapter 2 – Memories of Kay Bradway’s supervision group by Patricia Dunn-Fierstein

“The psyche finds its way when there is a safe container for it to do its work”.  In this chapter the writer reminisces about the supervision group she attended and how it was set in place.  She remembers the “social” side as the group collected and prepared to enter the unconscious world of the sandplayer.  There is more evidence of benefits of keeping the group small and familiar. 

Chapter 3 – Becoming a group sandplayer supervisor by Harriet S Friedman

In this chapter the author tells the reader how she set up her group supervision as she reflects on her personal journey to becoming a sandplay supervisor.  Also covered was the “shadow side” of supervision, when asked how the group felt about presenting the trays in the group some spoke of the vulnerability they felt revealing the tray and their interpretation of same.

Part 11 – Designing contemporary supervision models

Chapter 4 – The complex responsibilities of the sandplay supervisor by Patricia Dunn-Fierstein

The author wastes no time getting straight to the complex responsibility of the Supervisor.  In this chapter she talks about the “goals” of the sandplay therapist – they (the therapist) should be steeped in completed sandplay process. This is vital to allow the holding of the clients’ precious stories. She summarises these goals 1. A personal experience of a deep sandplay process (knowledge from the inside-out). 2. Skill at observing self and others. 3. An integrated capacity to contain. 4. An integrated knowledge of critical theories, (knowledge from the outside-in).  She also refers to Robin Shohet and Peter Hawkins (2000) theory of the seven-eyed model of supervision which is vital in the work of supervision.  Slippery slopes of supervising the symbolic process – this is best avoided by using silence while watching the tray evolve and settle.  When we speak we interfere with the symbolic process.  It is necessary for supervisors to create a safe “temenos” (a word the book loves to use meaning a safe place).  Like the supervisee the supervisor must guard against “intellectualising” the material.  She recommends approaching the tray with sensation, feeling and intuition before entering into the thinking model.  As she weaved through the seven-eyed model she reflects back to link it with the goals already covered earlier in the chapter – this makes it very helpful to the reader.  

Chapter 5 – A collaborative model of clinical supervision in sandplay by Mariellen Griffith

The author sets the scene with the supervisor creating a collaborative understanding with the supervisee on how to work together.  Inviting their opinion on what they want as this is a collegial relationship.  The responsibility of the learning is the supervisee’s, this is important to know as when the supervisee is with the client she/he should be able to call on their own ability to understand the symbols.  The author covers Stages of clinical supervision in this chapter by demonstrating creating a supervisory relationship as well as closing one down – respectfully. 

Chapter 6 – Mapping the cycle of sandplay process by Betty Jackson

In this chapter the author uses the great mythologist Joseph Campbell (Campbell: 1949) and his bestselling book The hero with a thousand faces to draw up a working cycle model with great effect.  Meeting the hero as he/she “answers the call” usually the need for this (call) is created by “pain, loss or general malaise”.  She demonstrates this cycle in a circular fashion with good outcome.  One of the pieces is when she describes clients leaving hand prints in the sand as a declaration of “I am here – my work here will have a lasting impression”.  She tells the reader of when the client, having been through the “road of trial” will find the Self then it is a time for “joyous celebration and wakeful caution” this caution is not only for the client but also for the therapist.  To support her circular cycle the author quotes “Nothing interesting or important ever happened in a straight line.  In fact, it’s the quickest way to the wrong place.  And don’t pretend you know where you’re going.  Because if you know where you are going, that means you’ve been there, and you’re going to end up right back where you started from”. (The One Woman Jewish Theater Company page 63)

Part 111 Meeting special challenges in supervision

Chapter 7 – Ethical dilemmas in sandplay supervision by Gretchen Hegeman

This chapter covers the ethic situation.  In an attempt to explain it the author recognises the small community of the sandplay world. It is often the case that a client will become a client/trainee from the same tutor and also become their supervisee.  The sharing of trays is well covered and case studies of “where it went wrong …. while living in the litigious world… hopefully we can keep soul, compassion and understanding alive in our work”. 

Chapter 8 – Reflections on sandplay supervision: as above, so below, as inside, so outside by Kate Amatruda

In this chapter we learn the struggles for the supervisor when she/he has a “feeling” typology and her intern/supervisee is a “thinking” typology.  This is a “must read” chapter as the author describes very vividly how they “found a way to play”!  She states “that if one person (in the triad) changes the vibrations of waves… will send back slightly altered waves”.  She tells the reader how we learn from our clients and also from our supervisees. 

Chapter 9 – Transference and Countertransference in the supervision process by Denise G Ramos

The author here breaks down the different compartments that are present between the client and therapist and when negative transference is present in that relationship and the supervisor experiences it in the relationship with the supervisee – to say or not to say?  The author confirms that supervision is more effective when it is centred on the emotions and resonances of the supervisee with the client.  I was glad to see that the author used a sandtray to work with issues the supervisee was having with a client by the end of her chapter she was able to demonstrate that using the sandbox with the supervisee placing her conflicts in it is a creative way of working.

Chapter 10 – The field of relationships in supervision by Maria Ellen Chiaia

Here the author describes the multi-layers of relationship both at an interpersonal and interpsychic level.  The importance of a lovely expression of “empathic attunement” is so respectful of the sacred story of the client as brought through the supervisee.  Sitting with the clients’ tray provokes the co-transference explaining this by saying “if we allow an image to speak before we verbalise what we are seeing, we can gain a great deal of information”.

Part 1V Moving into the cross-cultural world

Chapter 11­ – Supervision in an international, multilingual and multicultural therapy world by Ruth Ammann

The author makes it clear that it is not just the final picture that is important but the supervisor must engage the supervisee in the movement of the tray content, both in and outside the tray.  How the client approaches the choosing of symbols, the energy at the tray, the direction of the movement in the tray etc.  In a multicultural setting it is stated that it is important for the therapist to ascertain the context of the miniatures chosen by the client because it can mean different things to different people and cultures. 

Chapter 12 – Sandplay supervision in a community mental health center by Sachiko Tako Reece

In this chapter we experience the challenging client in a mental health centre.  It became clear early on that their learned way of working would not necessarily work in this community health centre.  We are told that, on average, a client will attend only one session with reasons such as shame and stigma attached to mental health for non attendance.  The author holds with the theme of this section of the book i.e. cultural.  She gives a demographic slant and points out the difficulties attached to bilingual therapists.  She suggests that if therapists do not understand how these clients lived in their native country good services cannot be delivered to the clients.  Sandplay in a medical model is discussed in this chapter, including the complications of same.  She covers the role of supervisors i.e. the duties such as ethical and legal and also the responsibility to keep safe the client.  She used some case studies to explain the working of sandplay in this environment.  In one case of a sand tray of a father of a 16 year old aggressive client it was discovered that he (the father) had a neurological condition.  She ties these findings with Jungian theory about symbolic understandings.  She closes her chapter with feedback notes from supervisees.

Chapter 13 – Supervision of sandplay therapy in preschool education in China by Gao Lan

The author talks about the culture in preschool China.  How 2.5 – 6 year olds’ live in the school five days per week.  She describes a research project entitled “Psychological Education for Children” with sandplay as a technique.  Using Dora Kalff’s theory of a “free and protected space” (Kalff 1991) and Ruth Ammann’s understanding of being “centred, creative and psychologically healthy” (Ammann 2005) they set about their task with “sandplay without therapy” – the author talks about getting parental permission to work with a 4 ½ year old boy described as the most difficult child in the school of some 800 students.  Her work is described in words and supported by pictures of his sandtray creations.  They record remarkable transformation with this child through the use of sandplay. They also demonstrate the world of a female child diagnosed with ADHD and her journey using the sandplay. 

Part V Supervising special groups

Chapter 14 ­– Mentoring supervisors: a process model by Rie Rogers Mitchell

In this chapter the author describes a process model to mentor a supervisor in her work with a group of interns.  The group members were diverse in capabilities and the author worked with the supervisor to remember her own experience of being an intern – she facilitated this by introducing a visualisation exercise to settle the supervisor.  During the supervisor’s remembered process she was able to create a sandtray which opened up the unconscious to allow the supervisor to understand more clearly the relationships with the interns. 

Chapter 15 – Group training in a crisis: an urgent response to 9/11 by Rosalind Winter

Answering the call to facilitating the traumatic 9/11 situation.  The author tells the reader of using a system called Symbolic Formation which is a play on sandplay therapy.  Symbol Formation is described as a medium of creative expression and containment of disturbing feelings through sand, sand tray and miniatures.  The author writes about the support, the problems of multiple role relationships, the group dynamics with culture and ethnicity to be managed.  She reflects on what made it work.

Chapter 16 – Questions and exploration: supervising graduate students of analytical psychology in China by Heyong Shen and Gao Lan

The only male contributor to the publication talks about the recent arrival of sandplay to China and reflects on Jung and Kalff in their knowledge of Chinese culture, surmising that they were not Chinese.  He takes the reader through the yin – jang, Ganying and the meaning of Hexagram 31 through to how we heal using sand.  If it starts at the heart healing will take place through the hands.  “so awakening and developing the inner healer is a primary importance in becoming…. a fine sandplay therapist”.

Chapter 17 – In the presence of the child: developing therapeutic language by Judy Zapppacosta

This chapter speaks of the presence of the therapist in the session with the child.  With the supervision holding a much needed “outer container” to facilitate the work released by archetypal figures.  The author covers the relationship with the clinician and the parents of the child client and the use of the supervision relationship in this area.  She covers the use of metaphorical language when working with children as this is less threatening to the child client.  She reminds us to keep the symbols as a moving experience instead of concretising them.

Part V1 Making connections with other expressive arts therapies

Chapter 18 – Midwives of consciousness: supervising sandplay and expressive art therapists by Gita Dorothy Morena

The author uses a lovely metaphor of the psychotherapist being a “midwife of consciousness”.  She covers the different way of supervising which include the two way mirror but special attention is given to experiencing the art and sandplay work.  Also covered in this chapter is the synchronicity that can happen at an unconscious level while the supervisee and supervisor explore the work of the client by the next session the client will have moved within their work.

Chapter 19 – Supervision in sandplay: the art therapist as sandplay supervisor by Lenore Steinhardt

This chapter covers the work of an art therapist as supervisor of the sandplay supervisee.  She describes the therapeutic relationship as represented symbolically, as a triple spiral and demonstrates this with a visual image.  The image is encircled with another circle described as the supervision circle.  She reminds the reader that the art therapists experience their training as a group experience and the sandplay therapist uses individual relationship.


Ammann R.A. (2005) Forward in the Chinese Version of Healing and Transformation in Sandplay. Guangzhou: Guangdong Higher Education Press.

Campbell J (1949) The hero with a thousand faces Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Hawkins P & Shohet R (2000) Supervision in the helping profession Buckinham Open Press

Kalff D (1991) Introduction to Sandplay therapy, Journal of Sandplay Therapy,1, 7 – 15

The One Woman Jewish Theater Company in San Francisco, CA

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